By: Melissa Portunato, IBCLC
Breast Gymnastics is a gentle massage technique that can bring pain relief and easier milk flow for mothers experiencing engorgement, clogged ducts, and other common breastfeeding conditions. Maya Bolman, IBCLC and leading researcher in Therapeutic Breast Massage coined the phrase “breast gymnastics” to teach breastfeeding families and lactation health care professionals the benefits of gentle stretching and movement of the breast. Breast gymnastics triggers drainage of the lymphatic system creating milk to flow freely improving the quality of breast milk and decreasing swelling. Used in combination with hand expression, breast gymnastics effectively alleviate breast pain making nursing and pumping a more enjoyable experience.
THE BENEFITS OF BREAST GYMNASTICS
Breast pain is a leading cause of premature weaning and breast gymnastics can help resolve common ailments associated with early breastfeeding. Often relief is immediate, and breastfeeding can continue with no interruptions.
Chronic Breastfeeding Pain
If you are experiencing chronic breast pain, practicing breast gymnastics can bring relief. Chronic pain in the breast can sometimes be caused by a bacterial infection. It’s important to monitor your symptoms and check with your doctor if your symptoms are not improving.
Also known as “milk stasis”, engorgement comes from built-up milk in the ducts which can cause painful swelling, firmness, and sensitivity of the nipples and breast. Engorgement is most common among first-time mothers but can also happen when weaning from breastfeeding.
A “plugged” or “clogged duct” occurs when a milk duct that leads to the nipple gets blocked. The onset is often fast and can be associated with a hard, often painful lump. Some causes of a blocked duct are prolonged time without milk removal, shallow latch, restrictive clothing, or even stress. With proper care, most clogged ducts subside within 2-3 days.
Mastitis can be infectious or non-infectious, and symptoms of both include fever, pain, swelling, redness of the breast, hard lumps, hot to the touch, and feeling flu-like symptoms. If you suspect you may have mastitis, make an appointment with your doctor. Breast Gymnastics can aid recovery, but you may also need medications to clear up the infection.
Latching Baby To Breast
Breast Gymnastics can soften the breast to allow your baby to latch on to your breast. The gentle movement and circulation with hand expression can protrude the nipple and your baby will be able to latch deeper for more nutritive feedings at the breast. You can move and stretch your breasts while simultaneously feeding your baby for more productive nursing sessions.
HOW TO DO BREAST GYMNASTICS
Cup both hands under one breast
Lift breast up and down
Move your breast softly to the left and then right
Move your breast gently all the way around in a circular motion – clockwise and then counterclockwise
Repeat on the other breast
If your baby cannot nurse, protect your milk supply by breast pumping every 2-3 hours with a hospital-strength breast pump. If you are experiencing breast pain, connect with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, IBCLC for evidence-based information, counseling, and support to continue to meet your breastfeeding goals.
Mothers Value and Utilize Early Outpatient Education on Breast Massage and Hand Expression in Their Self-Management of Engorgement. Witt AM, Bolman M, Kredit S, Breastfeed Medicine 2016 Nov; 11:433-439.
Therapeutic Breast Massage in Lactation for the Management of Engorgement, Plugged Ducts and Mastitis. Witt AM, Bolman M, Vanic A, Kredit S, J Hum Lact 0890334415619439, first published on December 7, 2015.
Recapturing the Art of Therapeutic Breast Massage During Breastfeeding. Bolman M, Saju L, Oganesyan K, Kondrashova T, Witt AM. J Hum Lact. 2013 Aug;29(3):328-31.